Sister's Journal

Date: 18.August.1999
Location: Brighton, England
Position: 58 degrees 48.6 minutes North, 00 degrees 06 minutes West
The road to Amsterdam, The Netherlands

From the header you can see that I'm actually writing this report in England. I've been a little lazy lately so now I'm backtracking a bit to bring you up to date.

Copenhagen to Amsterdam was a hard push. We fell victim to schedule pressures once again. Camellia and Ryan had a plane to catch (London-SFO, 17.Aug.99) and we were determined to see something of Amsterdam and London before they left.

We made good time south from Copenhagen then west to the eastern entrance to the Kiel canal in Kiel, Germany. Europeans call this the North Sea-East Sea canal. The East Sea is what we know as the Baltic.

We transited the canal, from Kiel in the east to Brunsbuttel in the west, August 4. We were keeping pace with a smaller Norwegian boat partly because Camelia had befriended one of their crew members. That evening it was through the lock, out of the canal and across the mouth of the Elbe river to Cuxhaven, Germany. The next day out into the tidal current and southwest toward Norderney, a German resort island on their North Sea coast.

Motoring along the becalmed North Sea, an hour or two from Norderney, about 1800 hours (sorry but we've decided that's the way we'll keep time) a speedy boat roared past us headed in the same direction as us ... approximately west by southwest. A minute or two later she stopped. She started up again headed north. She ran for a few seconds then stopped, dead in the water. We skated along at a blistering 7 knots until we caught up with and passed a hundred meters or so south of the power boat (affectionately know by some sailors as stinkboats).

Now, International rules of for safety at sea require that vessels have a VHF radio and, when under way, they continuously monitor channel 16 on that VHF radio. As we passed the power boat our VHF squawked and we heard a request for help. It was the power boat. They claimed their engine had failed and they needed help.

Now, try to understand what was going through my mind here. We were a few miles off the German coast there was relatively little boat traffic and it was clearly our responsibility to respond to their request. On the other hand, paranoia being what it is (and having seen too many movies) I considered the possibility that they were faking and wanted to board our brand new, expensive looking, American flagged boat. Further, I had my brother's kids with me and he told me if they didn't return safely that he'd beat me.

Sooooo .... this was my more or less paranoia driven course of action. I sent Andy below to retrieve our 12 gauge flare pistol, trying to be discrete so the kids didn't notice. They of course knew, as I found out later, exactly what was going on. I stuffed the flare pistol and flares into my jacket pocket and approached the power boat. As we circled them, they seemed innocent enough, but you know the innocent looking ones are the most dangerous. We prepared a towing bridle and threw them one of our longer lines. They attached their end of the line to their boat and we proceeded to tow them to Norderney. A couple of hours later we towed them into Norderney harbor, shortened up the tow line, passed in close to a search and rescue vessel and let go of the tow line so they glided up to the SAR vessel just so. They were ever so grateful and I felt a little stupid about having been so paranoid. They next day we were off, our stores having been augmented by a bottle of red and a bottle of white and enough Dutch Guilders for a "nice dinner in Amsterdam" as they put it. We tried to be graceful and not accept a gift for our help but they insisted.

Oost Vlieland was next. Vlieland is a very cool little Dutch island with a very cool little village on the east end and an incredibly densely packed marina. We arrived pretty late, around 2200 but the harbor master met us at the entrance. The harbor master jetted around the marina in his inflatable boat, standing up all the while. He led us to a spot along side another boat and told us to tie up to that boat. We became one of some 500 boats (I'm guessing) that he had crammed into a marina which probably had capacity for 300 on a good day. The harbor master was in constant motion. As boats arrived he led them into the melee and inevitably found one sort of mooring spot or another. Everyone seemed happy to have a place ... I know we were.

We stayed in Oost Vlieland for a couple of days to take a break.

Among the visiting boats were a number of large, maybe 120 feet, old, 1900 vintage, Dutch boats. Jack Aubrey referred to them as Dutchmen with "fat arses and leeboards" These had been cargo carriers in the age of sail. They were specifically built to ply the shallow, tide sensitive, waters and myriad canals of the Netherlands. Now they are converted to passenger carriers, sort of lowlands cruise ships, each of which carried 20-30 guests. They were nearly massive with huge masts, lots and lots of sail area and the "leeboards" that Aubrey referred to. Their bows are as round as their sterns, they are long, low and wide and really not very "pretty", except in the sense that they were beautifully functional.

Most sailboats have keels. Keels not only provide a righting ballast to keep the boat upright but they also help keep the boat from being blown sideways by the wind (making leeway) when under sail. Boats navigating the inland waterways of The Netherlands must have very shallow draft and they must/should be able to sit in the mud upright when they are caught, by an outgoing tide. A keel draws too much water and a boat with a keel, when grounded, doesn't stay upright. That is, keels aren't cool in the shallow inland waterways of The Netherlands.

These Dutch boats have huge leeboards, about the size of large barn doors. They sort of look like spare rudders mounted on either side of the hull about midships. They are hung by a swivel at the top and a line is attached to the bottom so they can be lowered and raised according to need. On any given point of sail only the downwind board (the leeward board) is lowered into the water. They stick down into the water preventing leeway just like a keel does. If they hit the bottom they just swivel up and out of the way and the boat continues on. When they maneuver in tight quarters, like Oost Vlieland marina, for example, they raise and lower the leeboards alternately as they try to move the boat first to port then to starboard. They are awkward and ungainly and perfect for the application.

Chuck and Andy (I'm not telling you where we were when I finished this)


Copyright Ames Lake Systems 2001-2002